Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

A Christmas Story, The Musical
National Tour
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of A Year with Frog and Toad and The Wizard of Oz


Christopher Swan
Photo Courtesy of Big League Productions, Inc.
The 1983 quirky film A Christmas Story is the latest holiday "classic" movie to get a musical adaptation. Based on radio humorist Jean Shepherd's stories of being a boy in Indiana in the 1940s, the film and musical follow young Ralphie's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The movie can be seen in heavy rotation during the holiday season on cable TV and the musical captures just about every humorous, odd ball, and touching moment of Ralphie and his family's Christmas story in a whimsical and heartwarming style. After performances in several cities, the show made its Broadway debut three years ago, where it received several Tony nominations, including ones for Best Musical and Best Score. The current touring production has a winning cast and features creative elements on par with the Broadway production and is a fun way to kick off and celebrate the holiday season.

The story centers around a traditional middle-class family who is trying to do what needs to be done not only to survive but also to make it through another Christmas season. The musical sticks fairly close to the film and brings to life many of the iconic, quirky, comical scenes from the movie including the leg shaped lamp, the scene with a boy licking a frozen lamp pole, Ralphie in a pink bunny suit, the crazy dogs next door, and Ralphie's little brother stuffed into a snowsuit, along with such phrases as "triple dog dare ya," "oh fudge," "fra-gie-leh" and of course "you'll shoot your eye out." These humorous moments and phrases, and the touching story at the core, are what have made the movie a classic.

Joseph Robinette wrote the book, and the music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, all of whom made their Broadway debuts with this production. Fortunately, the creative team along with director Matt Lenz (adapting John Rando's original Broadway direction) and choreographer Warren Carlyle have managed to not dumb down or sanitize the kooky and edgier moments in the story and in fact have actually made it a more joyous affair with the addition of several top notch songs and very inventive choreography. So the fact that they have included the couple of PG-13 moments from the film, and not downplayed or eliminated them, is a huge benefit. While not all of Pasek and Paul's songs are exceptional, there are varied song styles including some big splashy numbers and a couple of comical tunes, all with fun lyrics, and several songs are also catchy top tappers. They've also written two sweet ballads for the mother to sing that sum up perfectly her place in the home and her importance in keeping the family in balance. Robinette's book includes a lot of narration for the character playing Jean Shepherd and, while it works to move the plot forward, it is a bit of a downside because, while Shepherd is weaved throughout the show, they really haven't found a way to seamlessly incorporate him into the show. He seems more like an outsider to the events happening in front of him.

Chris Carsten is Jean Shepherd, the narrator who is telling the story of what happened to him and his family during this one Christmas season. Carsten has the right amount of balance in his delivery, not only in the fondness he has looking back but also at the memory of all of the things that went wrong in the process of his attempt to get that BB gun. As Ralphie, Myles Moore projects a good sense of fear, determination and desperation that any child has when they want something but see many obstacles in the way of achieving their goal. Moore has a deep, strong singing voice that works well for his many songs. Ralphie is the epitome of the nice kid who isn't the most famous or the smartest and has his share of bullies, and Moore is effective in representing just about every one of us at that age. He also has a wonderful relationship not only with Christopher Swan and Susannah Jones who play his parents but also with Josh Turchin who is hilarious as Ralphie's younger brother Randy.

Swan is giving a very good performance as the frustrated father who desperately wants to win a newspaper contest, even though he has no idea what the "major award" prize is. It is a nice parallel to Ralphie's quest for the BB gun. Swan is adept at portraying the constantly frantic nature of the character while also letting us occasionally see the caring man underneath. Jones as Ralphie's mom has the frantic 1940s housewife and mother down perfectly. She manages to keep everything moving along swimmingly, even when confronted with a child who gets into fights, a turkey eaten by the dogs next door, and that hideous leg lamp. She also delivers a touching ballad "Just Like That" about how quickly childhood passes.

Lenz and Carlyle also make excellent use of the children in the ensemble, especially during the energetic "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" tap number in the second act that is led by Avital Asuleen and features Seth Judice in a winning solo tap. That number is just one of the very inventive fantasy sequences, similar to what was done for the movie, which also includes the hilarious "Ralphie to the Rescue" Wild West sequence. All of the fantasy scenes are well staged with fun choreography.

The creative elements are top notch as well, and are based on the Broadway designs. These include a lovely two-story house set, snow globe show curtain, and other colorful set pieces by Walt Spangler (adapted by Michael Carnahan), colorful period costumes by Liza Zinni that are based on Elizabeth Hope Clancy's Broadway designs, and Howell Binkley's original imaginative lighting design adapted by Charlie Morrison.

The national tour of A Christmas Story, The Musical is a well done adaptation with a nice theatrical score, winning performances, fun choreography and a well-used ensemble. While it helps to have seen the film to experience the many funny moments played out on stage, even if you haven't you will still find much to like about the show. I don't need to triple dog dare you to go, just go and have a wonderful time with this crazy and touching family.

A Christmas Story, The Musical runs through November 29th, 2015, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information about the show and tour, visit achristmasstorythemusical.com

Originating Author: Jean Shepherd
Motion Picture Director/Co-Screenwriter: Benjamin "Bob" Clark
Book: Joe Robinette
Lyrics/Music: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Director: Matt Lenz
Broadway Director: John Rando
Choreographer: Warren Carlyle
Scenic Design by Michael Carnahan, based on the Broadway designs by Walt Spangler
Costumes by Liza Zinni, based on the Broadway designs by Elizabeth Hope Clancy
Lighting Design by Charlie Morrison, based on the Broadway designs by Howell Binkley

Cast:
Jean Shepherd: Chris Carsten
Ralphie: Myles Moore
Mother: Susannah Jones
Randy: Josh Turchin
The Old Man: Christopher Swan
Miss Shields: Avital Asuleen
Ensemble: Sydney Chan, Josh Davis, Christian Dell'Edera, Elizabeth Flanagan, Caroline Howard, Tierney Lee Howard, Seth Judice, Rico Lebron, Allison Maldonado, Brooke Martino, Johnny Marx, Michael McClure, Deanna Ott, Charles Pang, Sophia Pargas, Daniel Smith, Brandon Szep, Michael C. Thatcher, Nikhil Saboo


Privacy Policy